By TYLER ELLYSON
LINCOLN – Jade Biesterfeld grew up attending Husker volleyball matches.
Her parents are season-ticket holders, so the family certainly wasn’t going to miss Volleyball Day in Nebraska.
“I actually already bought tickets, so I planned on going,” said Biesterfeld, a senior at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
Turns out, she didn’t need one to get in. Instead of watching from the stands, the Louisville native was part of the event management and operations team that helped make this historic moment happen.
As 92,003 people packed into Memorial Stadium in Lincoln for the volleyball showcase – setting a record for the most-attended women’s sports event ever – Biesterfeld and 17 other UNK students were busy scanning tickets, checking credentials and answering questions. It was their job to make sure things ran as smoothly as possible.
“I knew this would be a large-scale event, but being there in person and kind of being behind the scenes was just crazy. It’s hard to believe how many people were actually there,” said Biesterfeld, who’s studying recreation management with a physical education minor.
Volleyball Day in Nebraska included an exhibition match between UNK and Wayne State College, followed by a regular-season contest featuring the Nebraska Cornhuskers and University of Nebraska at Omaha. There was a flyover, fireworks, drone show and postgame concert, as well.
“Given the uniqueness of this event, I thought it would be a shame if we didn’t use this opportunity for an educational experience, especially since UNK was participating,” said Dustin Favinger, a lecturer in the Department of Management and senior director of career development and graduate programs in the College of Business and Technology.
“Knowing that it would be a big stage, I wanted to find a way for our students to be part of that.”
A former vice president of operations at the Viaero Center in Kearney, Favinger teaches an event operations class at UNK and happens to have a contact in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Athletic Department, where 2017 UNK graduate Payton Buckmaster is the assistant director of event management. The two connected shortly after the Volleyball Day event was announced last spring and came up with a plan to get more Lopers involved.
“We’re hyperfocused on experiential learning within our college, and that was kind of the driving force to get students to help out,” Favinger said. “You can talk about events like this in the classroom, but you really can’t duplicate that kind of exposure. In a lot of cases, this is the biggest event these students have ever been to.
“I’m hoping the experience will transform them and help connect the dots between the topics that we talk about throughout the course.”
The UNK students met remotely with Buckmaster earlier in the week to learn about their specific roles, then traveled to Lincoln together for Wednesday’s event. They left campus at 11:15 a.m. that day and didn’t get back to Kearney until midnight.
During their roughly eight hours at the stadium, Biesterfeld made sure people had the proper credentials/tickets for field access and courtside seats. That also meant she had a pretty good view of the action.
“I was texting my parents and they were like, ‘I cannot believe you’re down there,’” she said with a laugh.
Although she’s been to Husker athletic events in the past, this one was definitely different. Biesterfeld was most surprised by the amount of coordination and communication that’s required to pull off a celebration of this magnitude.
“When you attend an event, you don’t think about all the teeny, tiny parts,” she said.
UNK junior Alex Novicki had the same reaction. The Columbus native has attended Husker football games, “but it’s entirely different to actually be on the field.”
“It’s pretty incredible to witness something like that and all of the different things that went into it,” said Novicki, a sports management major with a marketing minor. “I didn’t realize how many people it takes to run an event like this and how much planning happens beforehand. Everybody has to do their specific job, and if somebody messes up, that can mess up the entire operation.”
More than 2,000 event operations and management staff were on hand for Volleyball Day in Nebraska, covering everything from concessions to parking to security. Like Biesterfeld, Novicki spent part of his time checking credentials at the courtside seating before moving to another section of the stadium.
He wants to be an athletic director, so this experience provided some valuable insight.
“Obviously it’s a lot of work, but it was still pretty fun to be a part of,” Novicki said. “I would do it again if I get a chance in the future.”
“Getting this experience with an event where you’re breaking records and you have that many people, it’s more valuable than I think I even understand right now,” she said. “I think once I get to my job, I’m going to be like, ‘Wow.’ Just having that one day is helpful to see what it’s going to be like or what to expect.”